TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian television aired a documentary on Saturday in which a woman whose stoning sentence caused global outrage staged a graphic reconstruction of her husband’s murder for which she faces possible hanging.
State-run English language Press TV said its half-hour film was meant to show the other side of a story that has been misrepresented by international media, but it may prompt yet more questions about human rights and press freedom in Iran.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s sentence to be stoned for adultery — the only crime that carries that penalty under Iran’s Islamic sharia law — was declared to have been suspended in September after an international outcry.
Rumors that she had been released spread around the Internet on Thursday after human rights campaigners in Europe apparently misinterpreted photographs released ahead of the broadcast, showing Ashtiani at her home where the crime scene reconstruction was filmed, as indicating she was free.
In the film, Ashtiani acts out her alleged role in the murder of her husband in a reconstruction filmed in black-and-white in a shaky hand-held camera style, accompanied by dramatic music.
It is not clear why she had agreed to take part in the film.
She is shown injecting her husband with a sedative before an actor playing her lover arrives to attach wires to his feet and neck and plug them into an electrical socket.
“He had decided to kill my husband by electrocuting him,” she says in the interview.
The reconstruction is interspersed with actual photographs of the dead man, Ibrahim Abedzadeh, with vivid burns on his body. The murder happened in 2005.
The Ashtiani case has further strained relations with the West as Tehran has come under tightened sanctions aimed at pressuring it to curb its atomic activities, which some countries believe are aimed at building nuclear weapons.
Iran says international media have manipulated the story to demonize the Islamic Republic. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly denied that Ashtiani was ever sentenced to stoning.
The program’s narrator said the stoning sentence handed down by Iran’s Supreme Court in 2006 was “symbolic” and unlikely ever to be carried out, due to a legal change in 2005 that aimed to ban stoning but “has yet to be fully integrated into official Iranian law.”
The documentary makers say they tracked down Ashtiani’s lover and secretly filmed him. But the report does not say whether Isa Taheri, who was tried for murder along with Ashtiani, was convicted nor why he is apparently free when she is in jail.
Ashtiani recounts how Taheri planned the murder.
“He said tomorrow I want to kill your husband. I asked: ‘how?’. He said: ‘You inject him with a drug and make him unconscious then I’ll come and electrocute him.’”
Press TV said it had also spoken to two German reporters who were arrested in October as they were interviewing Ashtiani’s son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, but that they had refused to be interviewed on camera.
It identified them as Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch, working for Germany’s Bild am Sonntag, and showed a still photograph of them in an Iranian cafe and pictures of their passports. The Germans were arrested along with Ghaderzadeh and Ashtiani’s lawyer in whose office the interview was taking place.
Berlin has appealed for the release of the reporters, who judicial officials say entered on tourist visas and so had no right to work as journalists under Iran’s strict media controls.
Germany, along with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, resumed talks with Tehran this week, seeking reassurances its nuclear activities will not lead it to acquire atomic weapons.
While Iranian officials say Ashtiani’s case is purely a matter for the judiciary, it has become an international political cause and the head of Iran’s Council of Human Rights said last month there was “a good chance that her life could be saved.
The fate of the German reporters may also prove a political-diplomatic matter. A spokesman said the government was considering a request to release them over Christmas, something that would send a goodwill message to Berlin.